September 1, 2019

The Church of Selective Sinners
Romans 3:9-24

Remember how we used to pick teams when we played softball? One team captain would throw the bat to the other captain who would grab it with one hand and then the two captains would alternately stack their hands on the shaft of the bat until they reached the end. The captain whose hand last reached the end would get to pick first. Then the remainder of picking would take place. Captains would keep alternately choosing players for their teams until everybody got picked.

I guess it was a fair way to pick teams, but since I was always one of the poorer players it made me feel bad. It made me feel bad because I was usually one of the last to be picked and when you’re one of the last to get picked, you felt like something is wrong with you, like you are nothing more than a leftover.

When I look at our society today, I realize many of us get picked but there are a lot of leftovers. Seemingly, nobody wants them. Their families don’t want them. Society doesn’t want them and many are not even welcomed in some churches.

Let me give you an example of one of society’s leftovers. Bill Amos, a minister to families with AIDS, tells about counseling a young man with AIDS. As this young man faced his diagnosis he said, "My greatest fear is not death. I’m most afraid that I will lose the support of my family and church if they ever find out how I got AIDS."

Amos goes on to speak very sternly about Christians and churches that treat people as leftovers. He writes, "We have a tendency to grade sins, and after we grade sins we exclude some sinners and select others. Contrary to the Biblical example, we have become a church of selective sinners."

Dr. Amos is right, isn’t he? We do tend to grade sins and select sinners. For most of us, some sins are acceptable while others are not.

A little greed (not too much mind you) is acceptable, especially if you give to the church. Stealing is not.

Gluttony, of course, is acceptable. In fact, it’s a Baptist rite of passage. Drunkenness, on the other hand, is not.

If you don’t act on it, prejudice is not all that bad. Murder, of course is a terrible sin.

Gossip is to be overlooked. Adultery is not.

A little white lie is often appropriate. Perjury is not.

Yes, Amos is right. We grade sins then select or reject people on the basis of what sin they’ve committed. Yes, too often, we are the church of selective sinners.

As we look at our text today, we discover that the church in Rome had become a church of selective sinners. Gentile believers felt excluded by some of the Jewish Christians who considered the Gentiles’ sins to be unacceptable. You see, the Gentiles broke the Jewish law by eating non-kosher foods and by ignoring some of the Jewish religious customs and, to these Jews, these sins made the Gentiles unacceptable in the church.

But in the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul confronts this church of selective sinners and reminds these Jews of their need for grace. Listen to our text found in Romans 3:9-24.

What shall we conclude then? Do we (the Jews) have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good - not even one.”
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

From this passage I want us to examine two things about sin and sinners. The first is this. Paul reminds us that sin is sin; there is no distinction.

In the church at Rome, the Jewish Christians were trying to exclude the Gentile Christians because they have not kept the Levitical Law, but Paul makes it perfectly clear that the sins of the Jews are just as bad as the sins of the Gentiles. In verse 9 he states that "no sinner is better." In verses 10-12, he tells them that “none of them are righteous." In verse 19, he tells them that "every mouth should be closed because all are accountable." In verse 20, he reminds them that "No flesh is justifiable,” and in verse 22, he tells them that there is no distinction between their sins and the sins of the Gentiles."

Then in verse 23 he sums up his argument about selective sins by declaring, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

Paul’s bottom line is this: Sin is sin. There are no lesser or greater sins. Sin is sin and everyone is guilty.

Several years ago I visited in the home of a couple who had expressed interest in joining the church I pastored. After a few minutes of opening chit chat the wife said, "We’re looking for a church where the preacher preaches against sin. Tell, me preacher, do you preach against sin?"

“I most certainly do,” I answered. “But I am a bit curious. Did you have particular sins in mind?”

“Well, I think a preacher ought to hit hard on sins like abortion, drunkenness, pornography, and homosexuality.”

“Well, on some occasions I have addressed these topics in sermons, but to be quite honest, I try to preach on sins that are more prevalent in my congregation. Sins like greed, prejudice, ambition and judgmentalism."

Well, I could tell from her face she didn’t like my answer. Finally with a huff she replied, "Well, I just don't think we can come to a church that is soft on sin."

I thought it was interesting that she labeled me “soft on sin” because I confronted her sins instead of lambasting the other sinners on her list.

We tend to do that don’t we? We find it so much easier to condemn the sin we’re not committing. That’s why we like to grade sins and select sinners. Because when we grade sins and select sinners, we think that lets us off the hook.

But according to Scripture, grading sins and selecting sinners is not the way of Jesus Christ. In fact, if we tried to determine the worst sins by following the ministry of Jesus, we’d quickly discover that Jesus was hardest on the sins we seem to tolerate.

Think about it. Jesus dealt gently with: prostitutes, adulteresses, tax collectors. and drunkards. Yet he dealt sternly with Pharisees who had judgmental spirits, condemning words, greedy ways, and a legalistic approach to religion.

Ironically, it wasn’t the prostitutes, adulteresses, and drunkards that sent Jesus to the cross. Jesus was sent to the cross, by the folks who were deemed “religiously acceptable.”

Yes, why Paul reminds us that we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s expectations. Sin is sin and there is no distinction.

But the second thing we learn from this text is this. Grace is grace; there are no exceptions.

The Good News of the gospel is that Christ’s grace cleanses ALL us of from ALL sin. God doesn't select some sins to forgive and others to exclude. His gift of grace is for all who will accept it.

In verse 22, Paul reminds us that "Grace is extended to all who believe - there is no distinction." In verse 24, he writes that grace is a "Gift to all" - though none have merited it. Yes, sin is sin, there is no distinction, but grace is grace and there are no exceptions.

The summer between my junior and senior year of high school I worked with the recreation program in a mental hospital. After I was there for about a week, I saw one of the patients in a locked ward trying scale a chain-linked fence in an effort to escape. When I started to go after him one of the other workers cautioned, “Leave him alone. He won’t go far, and if you go after him you might cause him to hurt you or hurt himself.” So I stood by and watched him.

Do you know what the poor man did after he scaled the fence? Instead of trying to escape, he stood on the outside of the fence and made fun of the patients still inside. And within minutes two kind orderlies ushered him back in.

You know, some Christians are like this poor man. They climb outside the fence of their own self-righteousness and point the finger of judgment at those on the other side. But may I remind you, Sin is sin; and we are all the same kind of sinners. The only difference between those in the church and those in the world is the unmerited gift of God’s grace.

Yes, sin is sin. There is no distinction. But Grace is Grace. There are no exceptions.

Before I conclude my words today, let me say this. Rutledge Baptist Church is one of the most accepting congregations I know of anywhere, and that’s why I’m proud to be a part of you. For the most part, it doesn’t matter what you are or what you’ve done, our congregation will welcome you with open-arms. I think the statement on the front of our bulletin says it all. We are an inclusive, God-centered community committed to sharing God’s love with All people.

Yes, I believe that’s who we are, and yet, I preach a sermon like I have today because I know how easy it is to drift into a spirit of judgmentalism, a spirit of exclusion. So, from time to time, I think we need to be reminded that sin is sin, there is no distinction; and grace is grace; there are no exceptions.

There’s an old hymn in the hymnal we rarely, if ever, sing, but its words speak so clearly to our understanding of sin and grace. So open your hymnals, if you will, to Hymn No. 339, Not What My Hands Have Done," and follow along as I read these choice lyrics.

Not what my hands have done, can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do, can give me peace with God:
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.
Your voice alone O Lord, can speak to me of grace;
Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.
No other work but Yours, no other blood will do;
No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.
I praise the Christ of God: I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
My Lord has saved my life and freely pardon gives.
I love because He first loved me, I live because He lives.

(Singing) Yes, Grace, grace, God’s grace.
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within.
Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin.